Scotland put in a strong performance against Australia in the opening Autumn Test. Despite that, and only being behind for 4 minutes, they couldn’t quite make it over the line for victory. So where can they do better this weekend?
Fix the restarts
It’s been painfully obvious for a while now that Scotland struggle with kick-offs and Saturday was no exception. Dark blue jerseys claimed just 1 out of 5 Australian restarts. Even allowing for Israel Folau’s incredible athleticism this simply wasn’t good enough. The errors theselves only lead directly to 3 points (less than scrums – 6 points; and lineouts from penalties – 14 points) but what really hurt Scotland were the lost opportunities to gain possession and territory. Increasing the number of players attacking the 10-metre line may discourage the opposition from kicking short but requires everyone to drop deep quickly if the ball does go long.
Scotland could also do with winning some of their own restarts. Only 1 of 6 was contestable and even with just 3 minutes left on the clock they went long rather than trusting they could beat Australia in the air.
Execute the exit strategy
After Jonny Gray’s try, Scotland spent most of the next 30 minutes pinned in their own half. During that period Australia turned the ball over no less than 10 times. The dark blues only managed a strong exit (making it over halfway) on 4 occasions. Another 4 kicks were short and ultimately just invited the Ozzie attack back on to an increasingly desperate and tired defence. There was a Bernard Foley up and under which should have been claimed – but wasn’t.
Also, on a Scotland put-in, there was the scrum penalty that put the visitors within striking distance. In addition the home team conceded the softest of penalties, straying offside at the Australians’ penultimate lineout. This was the error that provided the field position for Kuridrani’s try. Against Argentina it’s crucial that Scotland force the Pumas to start any attacking play from as deep as possible.
The Scottish defence will be far more comfortable containing the opposition in midfield than pressed back in their own 22.
Make good decisions every time
Hindsight is always 20/20 and sometimes it can be easy to label as wrong an option taken with the best of intentions. That said the only way to improve is to analyse these moments after the fact and there were a number of times when Scotland appeared to miss the best choice.
Examples included: Laidlaw’s decision to take on a penalty at the edge of his range with Russell and Hogg available; opting for the scrum instead of the lineout when Hodge knocked the ball into touch (leading to Foley’s first penalty); choosing to tap and go after allowing the Australian forwards to get set on the last play of the game. A scrum would have tied in the Ozzie pack – and given a 50/50 shot at a penalty if there had been more setpiece shenanigans. As it was the green and gold defence was able to spread out across the pitch and was never really stretched in those final phases. Even Huw Jones’s second try came at the expense of Hardie and Maitland having an overlap on the other wing.
To win these close games Scotland have to be making the optimal choice as often as possible. This likely means more preparing for in-game situations and taking mental fatigue into account in substitutions.
Power up the maul
The dummy maul at the lineout then move the ball away from contact was the go-to option against Australia. On the couple of occasions Scotland did try and muscle their way forward the Ozzies managed to drop the catcher before the maul could get going. Wales were successful with 9 mauls out of 9 against Argentina who really struggled to deal with this tactic. Scotland’s opponents on Saturday only won the ball back once from the 4 occasions they themselves took it in.
This was partly a result of not using the maul to any great extent themselves and partly due to Wales zeroing in on isolated players with choke tackles. Allied to a potentially indisciplined Argentinian tight 5 this could be a fruitful area for the home side to target this weekend.
Have a drop goal threat
There were 2 periods of play when any kind of score would most likely have won the game for Scotland. The first was their only excursion into the Australian 22 in the last half hour – a drop goal would have taken the side 2 scores clear. The second was that final play of the match with time expired. The big issue for Scotland was none of the outside backs have ever kicked a DG in their professional club careers, let alone on the international stage.
Greig Laidlaw had notched a drop before but the last of his 3 came some 4 seasons ago for Edinburgh and at scrum half he wasn’t in any position to take that kind of opportunity. It’s another reason why introducing Ali Price for that frantic last few minutes may have been beneficial. He could have provided a higher tempo; crisper passing; and allowed Laidlaw to take up a position where a drop goal may have been a viable option. Taking an early 3 points against Argentina would give their defence something else to worry about. It would also provide Scotland with another way to keep the scoreboard moving; it is vital to avoid a dogfight.